Saturday, April 26, 2008
That brings me on to my next point. Thanks to Martin Luther King Jr, the West and beyond is acutely sensitive of white on black racism. There has been a campaign from the Football Association here in England to "Kick Racism out of Football." Generally speaking this effort, and other likewise movements have made black-targeted racism the bane of society. Yes, it is true, of all ethnic minorities of the post-WWII era, the Blacks, sorry, African-Americans suffered the most, but that doesn't mean nobody else suffered. To this day, Subcontinental Asians are the butt of jokes in the UK. Is this racism? Yes. Is it being actively discouraged? Not loudly enough.
But it isn't just foreign races that are feeling the heat in the UK. Everyday at school, without fail, I will face an anti-American jibe, with varying levels of intensity and thus offense. Likewise, due to connections with the Middle Kingdom, I often face tirades of verbal diarrhea with regards to China. I know its not racism, but it can be very offensive.
Unfortunately, so regularly does this occur that I have grown to grin and bear it, but the fact that racism and bigotry are so widespread and so acceptable is really shocking, considering that the UK is part of the UN, NATO and the EU, all organizations which thrive on (supposedly) international unity and tolerance.
The political noise regarding what is an annoyance for me, but a serious issue for others, is virtually zero, which for me indicates that people a) don't realise that they are spewing offensive vitriol, or b) accept it as part and parcel of "the British Experience."
I sure hope somehow its neither, as I absolutely adore the coarse nature of life in the UK, but too often people up the sandpaper gradient too far. However, I realise that, as ever, the great majority share my abhorrence of racism. Credit to all but the putrid minority for wiping out one facet to racism, but there's still a lot of work to be done.
Just open your eyes, and speak out. It works.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Fast forward to April 2008. Dubya has but another 8 months in office, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan show no signs of abating and yet change is supposedly in the air.
In one corner, we have Hilary Clinton, wife of Bill. You know, the only President to admit to "doing it" in the Oval Office. The resolute wife she is, Hilary stuck by her man in his hour of need, later becoming Senator for New York.
Facing the Nightmare from New York is Barack "the Baller" Obama. The 6-1 Flyin' Hawaiian, a relatively fresh-faced kid who cut his teeth in South-side Chicago after waltzing through Jakarta is my choice for...The 2008 Democratic Nomination.
For me, what puts Obama front and center is his determination to promote peaceful resolution to America's overseas problems. Whilst Clinton stoically denied the possibility of talking with the world's less...savory political leaders, Obama expressed willingness to just talk with Iran and North Korea. The offspring of a Kansan and a Kenyan, Obama is used to handling potentially contentious multicultural issues. Evidently Hilary the humbug does not share that experience...
In a recent Q&A sesh in Philadelphia, Clinton was quoted as saying,
"I want the Iranians to know that if I´m the president, we will attack Iran. In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them."
As Dr Muhammad Megalomattis wrote in The American Chronicle, Clinton is just making herself look, " Irrelevant, inconsistent and utterly disastrous."
Likewise, whilst I'm just one person, I'm surprised Hilary hasn't learnt from Americas past forays into foreign conflict. Let me summarize: The results have been downright ugly, and if Clinton gains the nomination, we have more downright ugly results to look forward to.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
As with most individual sports, a strong "mental game" is a key to success in the tennis world. Even if you've got the forehand of Roger Federer, the backhand of Richard Gasquet and the serve of Andy Roddick, if you have a flimsy mental game, you're not going anywhere fast.
You may be wondering why I'm writing this. Here's why: today, in my usual Sunday morning battle with my dad, I found myself up 6-2, 4-1. Things were going great. I broke daddio to love and was steaming towards the finish line. Serving to go up 5-1, I managed to hit 3 double faults and a net cord. Then 4 more net cords. I was reeling. It was now 4-3, and my frustration could be seen by looking at the stylish white streaks running down my racket head. I lost one more game to make it 4-4, but then managed to crawl back ahead to 5-4. I even broke to match point, but alas I ended up going down 7-5 and tripling the expletive count. It was 12:30 and a lot of english homework was sitting on my desk, so the game was called. The final score: 11-9 to me, but I was on the verge of tears. I hadn't even lost, but I was upset.
That's the thing about tennis. When you hit an emotional high, its impossible, or virtually impossible to hit a shot out. When you sink to the valley floor, the opposite scenario prevails. It's a frustrating sport, as Andy Roddick summarized well: "even on championship, you're not playing to win, you're playing not to lose."
A-Rod's right. The easiest way to win is just to loop everything to the back of the court. But its not satisfying to win that way. Its satisfying as hell to win with deft cross-court backhands, blistering down-the-line forehands or pinpoint aces, but it just so happens that those are tough shots to hit consistently over at least 2 sets, so when things don't go your way, its easy to get down on yourself. Pointless, but easy. And that's a fault I share with many of my tennis-playing brethren.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
People were expecting the last remnants of the pre-lockout Canucks to become history this offseason, but instead the man who led the Canucks out of the lockout has seen his head roll. General Manager is"unemployed for the first time in 20 years."
The general consensus is that Nonis will go down favorably in the history books for the Luongo deal alone, but as Tony Gallagher said, that deal basically fell into his lap. However, Nonis did bring the solid drafting that was lacking during the Brian Burke era. Still, Nonis must use some incredible hand cream for his trigger finger is really never itchy. No one will attack him for maintaining his deep prospect pool, but other than the Luongo deal, no proven players came Vancouver's way during Nonis's reign from 2005-2008. Yes, the team is rock solid on defense, and goaltending is outstanding, but fearlessness will be required starting July1st. The Canucks have around $2o million in capspace to fill at least 5 roster spots. This is an opportunity the team has to make the most of, for the Canuckss are almost at the point of being a legit cup contender. A successful offseason should move them up those extra notches.
The '08 draft is also said to one of the deepest ever. Current caretaker GM Steve Tambellini is known for his astute judgment of prospects, so a permanent promotion for him may not be a bad idea, particularly if the opportunity to draft rugged centerman Kyle Beach comes along. His acquisition would go a long way to beefing up a team regarded as too small and too soft. They say leave the pros to their work, so I'll refrain from further armchair GMing, but since the hockey sense of the Aquilini family is, as of yet, questionable, I will suggest a resolution.
Pry Jim Nill, another astute draft mind and pair him with Tambellini as co-GMs, stockpiling some amazing managerial talent. Then slot in Captain Canuck, Trevor Linden, as assistant GM as he learns more about the executive side of the NHL. Tambellini knows the organization inside out, Linden knows the CBA inside out and Nill knows drafting inside out. What more could you want? As Nonis keeps insisting even after losing his job, the Vancouver Canucks are a but a few pieces away from a deep playoff run. Let's just hope the new guy(s) can unearth those missing cogs.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
As an American citizen living in the
But now I am glad to announce that the dark ages are over.
And sorry, I’m also not talking about Hilary Clinton, who basically rose through the ranks due to her marital status and has wavered of
Nope, I’m talking about Barack Obama. For starters, he is the only Presidential candidate whose name is not recognized by Microsoft Word. Now that, boys and girls, epitomises change right there.
On a more serious level, the
That is why a multi-ethnic president is needed: so that the rest of the world can just maybe consider re-evaluating their stance concerning the US of A.
Such is the magnitude of Barack Obama’s international potential that we could be seeing a non-military solution to the
But Obama is not a one trick pony. In a March 2007 Washington Post opinion column, Journalist Eugene Robinson characterized him as “the personification of both-and,” a messenger who rejects “either-or” political choices, and could “move the nation beyond the “Culture Wars”” of the 1960s. To some, this may sound like flip-flopping, but for a potential President to come out and say that he’ll work with people to the benefit of the greater good says a lot about his commitment to national progression, and so not only could he brighten America’s overseas image, he may be the key to reviving the deathly ill dollar.
People may say Obama lacks in experience but the kind of promise emanating from Barack Obama is established at birth. I am not a religious person, but I know I will be praying on November 4th 2008 is the beginning of a brighter era for
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Never mind that the whole purpose of the Olympiad is international unification and pacifism. Too often, the Games have been used a platform for political noisemaking, and the consequences of this are routinely ugly. This doesn't change my perspective on the situation in Tibet, peaceful mediation is still necessary, but as if proving my earlier point, if the Games hadn't been used as a political forum, none of this would have come about.
Now people are moaning about the steadfastness of the blue tracksuited- Torch Guards. If people are going to try and physically extinguish the torch, what choice do they have but to be heavy-handed. Note that nobody says a thing about the equally heavy-handed procedures used by the Gendarmerie and Met Police used to disperse protesters. Until the protests are fairly examined from both standpoints, the protests will seem flawed. Never mind that most of the protesters don't know Jiang Zemin from Wen Jiabo, they just get a kick out of making noise.
But the real reason behind the Western badmouthing of China? They are scared sh**less.
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
This would be not such a malady if
However, things took an upswing when we huddled around the transfer desk at gate level: miraculously, there were 17 spare seats on the 19:30 departure to Heathrow. We were getting out tonight, and with €17 meal tickets to boot. Several hours and a duty-free café binge later, we were on the runway. Like the final chapter of a book that meanders on with no real direction, this annoying episode of what was otherwise a memorable trip had come to a close.
Yet one point of confusion remained. Finnair’s modus operandi is obviously to provide a gateway between Asia and
It’s a shame that the ground staff are so incompetent, for the onboard experience is exemplary. Even on the aging MD-11s, seats are spacious and portable entertainment devices are available free of charge. The new A340s are again spacious, and offer the latest technology as far as inflight entertainment is concerned. The intra-European fleet, whilst not fancy, is extremely comfortable. But the best bit: the coffee is fantastic. Basically, Finnair have a great foundation for success. They just need to clean up their act a tad.
 Which is to say, spotless and shiny.
Whilst money does change hands, it usually does so above board in the form of tips. “Connections” in that regard don’t operate on a financial basis but instead it’s more of “you do this for me, I do this for you.” And boy did “they” do stuff for us. From the top-rate hotels to the delectable food, I have very few complaints, and those few are the result of “us” doing stuff for “them” – the silk mill restaurant in
The quality of the local guides was also great. Combining professionalism, humour and good yarns added to the value of the tour. Quick-thinking also proved a valuable asset. Literally whatever the weather, Peter and co. made sure we were warm, safe and dry, making sure nothing detracted from our experience of a fantastic country.
For that, here’s to you, Peter and co.
Alas, the fun and games of the past two weeks have wound down to a close. I remember thinking back in
Passing through culturally rich cities such as
To pick out one highlight for myself would be incredibly difficult, but I loved meeting up with my old classmates in
It was also an “experience” to travel on
Still, that was but a minor flaw in what was otherwise a fantastic trip. The hotels were generally fantastic, but the
It was a relief to hear that
Both ethnic suppression and journalistic censorship have to abate before
Still, from the relative safety of a foreigner’s perspective,
Sunday, April 6, 2008
This weekend has seen one of
The normally peaceful
True, the tea plantations offered a respite from the chaos of the downtown area, but it took an hour and a half to cover the 20km to that area. Still, it was fascinating to see firsthand how tea was farmed and produced. To the ecologists amongst you, yes, crop rotation is practiced here. To think that all the tea the world drinks is handpicked is just incredible. Everything from PG Tips on up, all handpicked.
I can see that Hangzhou is a fantastic weekend retreat for the hardworking Shanghainese, with the peaceful lakeside setting and temperate climate, and now that it can be reached in just 78 minutes from China’s economic hub, it could even be a bedroom suburb to Shanghai’s elite business force. Imagine that: a bedroom suburb of 6 million. Only in
Still, I wasn’t really looking to escape the buzzing madness that is
Whilst the team that bowed out in front of GM Place April 3rd had a vastly different identity from their counterparts of 2 years past, the end result was the same. The worrying thing is that the roster that couldn’t get it done this year is virtually identical to that which set club records 12 months ago. From that perspective, we should be glad that $12 million of salary will be pliable starting July 1st. Captain Markus Naslund’s hefty $6 million contract will be one of those to go, so there will be ample room for improvement. Still, GM Dave Nonis’s game plan should remain intact. There are still at least 2 years left of Roberto Luongo, meaning world-class goaltending will not leave Vancouver too soon. The same problem that confronted Nonis last season remains: the Canucks have 5 legitimate top six forwards. Yet this time, he has both plentiful financial belt room and a well-stocked farm to pick from. Young guns such as Ryan Shannon and Mason Raymond have both shown promise playing top-six minutes, and upper-level forwards such as Ryan Malone and Kristian Huselius have expired contracts that will be difficult to renew. In short, it is hard to imagine this nagging problem not being resolved.
Then take a look at Vancouver’s defence. Names such as Mattias Ohlund, Sami Salo and Alex Edler are epitomise dependable European defence. Then you’ve got Kevin Bieksa and Luc Bourdon, both feisty, strong, young defenseman. Lukas Krajicek skates with the grace of Scott Niedermayer and has a brilliant offensive mind. Don’t forget Willie Mitchell, one of the game’s premier defensive defenseman, responsible for almost as many saves as Roberto Luongo. Aaron Miller is veteran reliability, and Nathan McIver has some of the quickest fists out there. I think by now you’ll see my point. The Canucks have 9 defensemen capable of making most team’s top six.
Playing behind them is Roberto Luongo, thought by many to be the best goalie in the game today, and Curtis Sanford is a very capable back-up. Standing on the bench is Jack Adams Trophy winner, Alain Vigneault. If only that hole had been filled, the Canucks would have been headed deep into the post-season.
At least, that very simplistic analysis is forgoing one crucial bit of common sense: it is very difficult to do much if your team never fields a fully healthy line-up. Not one defenseman escaped the injury bug, and at times only one top-six player was available. When Kevin Bieksa and Sami Salo suffered horrific injuries in an early November tilt against Nashville, many Canuckleheads forecasted a falling sky. Whilst it appeared they were wrong for a long time, I feel like I’m stuck between a thundercloud and a brick wall right about now.
The psyche of Johan has endured a rollercoaster ride over the past few days. Tuesday and Wednesday were spent living it up in
It would be fit to say things haven’t been going his way since leaving Nanjing Railway Station bleary-eyed and morose. The Canucks dropped a 2-1 decision to the Edmonton Oilers to fall out of playoff contention, and Johan also realised that he likely won’t be able to return to the Middle Kingdom for at least two years. In short
But luckily our man is a firm believer in the saying, “tomorrow is always a better day.” Heck, it seems like this may work out. See, Johan is a big fan of boating, and a fair portion of Saturday will be spent touring
Followed by that will be a visit to the renowned tea plantations surrounding the city, which his uncle visited a fortnight previously. Whilst it is hard to soften the trauma endured by the poor boy, he acknowledged his privileged upbringing in a recent interview. As such, thinks could be a whole lot worse than they are.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
The upsetting thing is the lack of respect some of my fellow westerners show for the Chinese, always going on and on: “they can’t do this, they can’t do that, they can’t do goddamned anything.”
Exactly why they perceive this Chinese inferiority remains an enigma to me. Perhaps this is because Chinese are generally poorer than westerners, but even if this is the case, it is a very poor basis for such a generalisation.
But this where my “old adage” comes in:
YOU DON’T KNOW HOW GOOD YOU HAVE IT UNTIL IT’S GONE
I myself was another naïve westerner when I returned to China for the first time in nearly a decade in August 2005. For those first 6 months, we lived on a compound dominated by western businessmen and their families. The problem with these compounds is that they are usually located far from the downtown core of Nanjing, so while their hubbies boss around their Chinese minions, the expat WAGs grow bored in their luxurious houses and so usually do one of two things: stir up trouble in any forum possible, or blame their lack of initiative on “those stupid Chinese.” Never mind that said wife’s IQ may be the square root of that of their Chinese acquaintances. So more often that not, this disrespect for the Chinese will get passed down to the couple’s children, leading to unpleasant manners towards the locals.
Whilst I was, upon occasion, guilty of this same annoyance, my dad kept me real, as he loves China so much he could probably get a passport. Whereas some of my friend’s parents might encourage this behaviour, my father abhorred it and also let me know it. But all this was really a teething problem.
We returned home to England for a month in the deep winter of 2006, and within days I was yearning to return to Nanjing. When we finally did, in early February, we lived in a small apartment in downtown Nanjing. The apartment itself was a far cry from the one on the city fringe, but the location exponentially made up for it. And this time, I would not make the same mistake. I was determined to enjoy it. Now, sitting on the bullet train from Nanjing to Suzhou, I already miss the city deeply and can’t wait to return, hopefully for more than a couple of days. I have to say, the Hopkins Nanjing Center program looks ever more attractive.
I can only hope my friends experience the same epiphany, for once they embrace Nanjing, they won’t be able to let go.
We arrived at Zhengzhou Airport with plenty of time – 6:45 for an 8:05 departure. All was going swimmingly until we fell into line at the security checkpoint. 3 new tickets later, and we were threw, but the reasoning behind those 3 tickets is absurd. One member of our group was registered on her passport by her maiden name, whereas visa and ticket said otherwise. That got sorted pretty promptly, but considering that she had only once experienced problems with it before, it should have been a non-issue.
Then my father enters the fray. We are both formally named Johan, but his ticket head H van de Ven, so the security girl made sure to make an issue out of that. Upon changing his ticket, she saw that both our tickets read J van de Ven, so nagged us about that, before daddykins advising her in a rather forceful manner: “ta shi wo de haiza!,” or “that’s my son!!!”
So after that kafuffle, we made it through to the gate, minus a bottle of mouthwash, a bottle of water and a bottle of soap. Unfortunately, there was some sort of disturbance at our gate, but we managed to make it onto the plance at the Changsha/ Guangzhou gate.
Now I sit here on a very pleasant flight to Nanjing, relaxing with my packed lunch. This part of the day wasn’t a whole lot of fun, but there’s always some give and take, and I’m sure the rest of the day will be dreamy.